The Merritt Centennials (23-26-4-2) are set for an even bigger collision course with the Salmon Arm Silverbacks (23-27-3-1) tonight for a rescheduled contest at the Nicola Valley Memorial Arena.
These two teams have been doing a dance all season, jockeying for position in the extremely tight Interior Division, and this game could go a long way to deciding who finishes the season in 6th. The Cents come in with the hotter hand, unbeaten in their last 5, while the Silverbacks are losers of their last three and have only managed to score 1 goal in those losses. The 'Backs were shutout by Trail and Victoria, before managing one goal against the Penticton Vees who trounced the 'Backs 8-1. They won't have much time to lick their wounds as they are in the second game of a string of 5 straight, and the Cents can continue those woes with a win tonight.
The season series has the Cents in the drivers seat with a 3-2 edge with wins in the two most recent matchups. 4-1 in December and 4-2 in January. Both those wins coming on home ice, and a chance to sweep their home games tonight. Back in January it was Zach Zorn with one, and Mathieu Gosselin with 2 that saw the Cents jump out to a 3-0 lead early into the second period. The Silverbacks came back with 2 goals in the second to make it a one goal game heading into the third, but Brendan Schneider was able to add some insurance late in the third. Austin Roden stopped 39 of 41 shots for the win, while Kyle Dumba took the loss for the 'Backs.
The Cents last game, and last win was on Tuesday night against the Trail Smoke Eaters. The Cents jumped out to what seemed an insurmountable 6-1 lead through 2 periods of play, and then buckled a little in the third with Trail coming back to make it 6-4, before the Cents locked it away with a goal from Ashton Stockie to seal a 7-4 win. The games other goals came from Zach Zorn with 2, while Brendan Schneider, Christian Sabin, and Matt Kopperud.
The Silverbacks despite their offensive woes of late still have a few players worth checking closely. Rhett Kingston leads the team with 48 points, Tanner Campbell has 34, and Nick Unruh and Akito Hirose both have 27. The Cents are heating up at the right time, and are getting contributions from everyone in the lineup. Nick Wicks is coming off a nomination for Most Sportsmanlike in the league and has 44 points, Zorn netted two on tuesday and has 40, Zach Court is sitting on the 40 bubble with 39 points, and Tyrell Buckley fresh off a college commitment from the Michigan Tech Huskies has 37.
The special teams matchup sees the Cents coming in hot. In their 5 game unbeaten streak they've managed to score at least one powerplay goal in each game and 8 overall, while they've only allowed 1 powerplay goal against in 20 opportunities. The Cents now 7th on the powerplay with a 20.2% conversion rate, while the 'Backs are 10th with 17.9%, and on the penalty kill the Cents are 6th in the league at 83% while the 'Backs are 15th at 77.7%.
In net the Cents haven't seen the likes of Reid Cooper this season, but have seen plenty of Kyle Dumba. Both goalies saw action last night in the 8-1 loss against Penticton. Dumba is 8-17-0-1 with an 89.4 SV% and a 3.88 GAA. Cooper is 8-13-0-1 with a 90.2 SV%, a 3.52 GAA and 1 shutout. Jacob Berger collected the win on Tuesday, but with 3 games in the next 3 nights the Cents will need to rely on both of their goaltenders. Berger is 13-21-2-0 with a 90.6 SV%, a 3.43 GAA, and 2 shutouts. Roden is heating up with the Cents as well and is 11-9-1-3 with a BCHL 2nd best 93.0 SV%, a BCHL 6th 2.47 GAA, and 2 shutouts.
The Cents hope to stay hot, and better their playoff seeding in the season finale against the Silverbacks tonight.
Puck Drop 7pm at the NVMA, Pre-Game 6:45 with Jared Thomas on Q101.1FM or online at q101.ca.